In December of 2014, talk was heating up that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh would leave San Francisco to take the vacant position at his alma mater, Michigan. NFL media types didn't believe it would ever happen.
With all the rumors flying around, my colleague Jason Kirk put up a post about why NFL coaches generally don't want to leave the professional ranks to take college jobs (while noting Jim Harbaugh could be the possible exception).
I think his reasons stand up: NFL jobs pay more, they're in bigger cities, they don't involve strict adherence to NCAA rules. And most importantly, NFL jobs don't entail recruiting. As Kirk wrote at the time, "recruiting is weird."
You have to be familiar with rappers one third your age. You have to know how to use every social media thing the teenagers are into as of right now. You have to make funny doodles that stand out from all the other letters these kids are getting from your indistinguishable competitors. You have to go to high school games the Friday night before your Saturday noon kickoff. You have to be a heartless commander of warriors one day a week and the state's best grandma charmer the other six.
And that's the normal stuff. It gets way weirder.
With that in mind, here is a picture of Michigan coach Harbaugh dabbing with Migos, the rappers who invented dabbing, about two hours before news broke that the Wolverines had landed Rashan Gary, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2016.
Recruiting is weird, but so is Jim Harbaugh. Let's recount the highlights of Harbaugh's first full recruiting season.
- Harbaugh slept over at a kicker recruit's house
- Harbaugh climbed a tree, apparently at the behest of a recruit
- Harbaugh went to high school classes with a recruit
- Harbaugh dabbed in front of a recruit's Christmas tree
- Harbaugh made a cake shaped like Texas for a recruit
- And the crowning achievement: Harbaugh turned signing day into a sold-out show, with Michigan legend Tom Brady, very much not-a-Michigan legend Lou Holtz, baseball legend who likes Michigan a lot Derek Jeter, the aforementioned Migos, pro wrestling legend Ric Flair, NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, actress Jessica Szohr, ex-Tigers manager Jim Leyland, and one of the two Sklar brothers, plus video appearances from James Earl Jones, Mike Ditka, Drew Brees, Dick Vitale, Bret Hart, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and more.
Harbaugh was a decent recruiter during his time at Stanford, even landing a pair of top-25 classes in his four years with the Cardinal. But "Stanford" isn't the football name brand "Michigan" is, and after his professional stint, "Jim Harbaugh" was a name brand too. Lots of coaches do over-the-top things to land recruits. But Harbaugh has the slightly deranged mindset to concoct things over the top of everybody else's tops, and now he's got the pull to actually make those things happen.
Nobody had thought to make National Signing Day a star-studded circus. He somehow got Lou Holtz and Drew Brees to forget they have allegiances to other Midwestern schools. He got two of the most popular rappers in the world to show up at a party for 17-year-olds making their college decisions. He somehow decided a character from Gossip Girl should be there. And all the while, the event raised over $100,000 for charity.
The Harbaugh Show worked. The Wolverines left Signing Day with Gary, the nation's top player, making Michigan the first non-SEC school to land the nation's top player since Terrelle Pryor picked Ohio State in 2008. And according to 247Sports' composite rankings, Michigan had the No. 5 class in the nation. For comparison, Michigan was 20th in 2014, as the vultures circled around Brady Hoke.
Of course, Harbaugh has also rankled some folks. He pulled some scholarships in the weeks before signing day, a kinda scummy tactic familiar at other elite recruiting schools but alarming to some Michigan Men. And Harbaugh has been extremely aggressive about holding camps and meetings in recruit-rich parts of the South where other coaches wish Michigan wouldn't hold camps.
Well, here's the bad news. Harbaugh is an obsessive weirdo who seems to devote 100 percent of his soul to being victorious at things. In college football, recruiting almost entirely determines how good your football team will be at football. Therefore, Harbaugh will devote 100 percent of his soul and being to recruiting, coming up with the most ridiculous ways to impress teenagers. He will exploit loopholes, he will hurt feelings, and doing so will only make him stronger.
Harbaugh is the Tasmanian Devil, jibber-jabbering in a language none of us can understand and eating everything in his path. He's humorous to watch if he's a cartoon, but I wouldn't want to live in the silly, silly world where he exists. You can't talk sense into a cartoon character or Jim Harbaugh; you can only watch in fear and confusion as he rips a tornado-shaped hole into your wall.
Well, the rest of college football is now in Harbaugh's absurd world. Have fun!
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SB Nation presents: A look at (some) of Jim Harbaugh's wackiest moments
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